Surely you’ve heard about the latest dietary trend, the gluten-free diet. Everyone seems to be on it, even though they have no medical issue that requires them to do so. Then why are people getting rid of the gluten in their diets? For weight loss? Because of stomach problems? If the reason for going on a gluten-free diet is weight loss, you may want to approach things holistically, but if you are experiencing some issues that may indicate you have gluten sensitivity, then you might be on the right path. But is a gluten-free diet really a smart choice if you don’t have coeliac disease? In this article we’re trying to answer that very question, so read on and see what we’ve come up with.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite that is found in cereals such as wheat, barley, rye and some oats (oats do not inherently have gluten, but they are easily contaminated while growing in the fields next to cereals that have gluten). It is the reason behind the elasticity of dough and it is what makes it rise, keep its shape and gives it its chewy texture. It is present in all things made from or with wheat flour, from pizza to cookies and even soy sauce. If you want to avoid gluten, you must really be careful, as you can find it in the most unusual products, such as salad dressings. Thankfully, food companies are required to state that their products contain gluten or are made in a factory with machinery that processes gluten (this doesn’t mean that the product in itself has gluten, only that it may be marginally contaminated with it – which for a person with Coeliac disease can be very dangerous).
Why Are People Sensitive to Gluten?
The most accepted answer to that question is that gluten is a fairly new addition to the human diet and our bodies haven’t learnt how to process it properly. Throughout evolution of our species, humans have mostly consumed animal products and some fruits, vegetable, nuts and seeds and the transition to agriculture is quite recent on our evolutionary scale (it is as if we started eating cereals yesterday, from an evolutionary standpoint). Our stomachs still find complex carbohydrates hard to deconstruct – the gluten molecules into amino acids. Most people don’t have a problem with gluten, even though our bodies can’t process it as it should, but in some people consumption of gluten triggers various symptoms that can either indicate a disease or a sensitivity (apparently one in seven American has gluten sensitivity).
Complete gluten intolerance is called coeliac disease. Even a small amount of gluten protein will trigger a negative response within the person’s body. The structures of the small intestine that absorb nutrients are damaged by our body’s attack on gluten. So it’s not really the gluten that is making people sick, but their body’s reaction to a protein called gliadin, that is found in gluten. If ignored or left untreated people will experience bloating, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, intestinal ulcers and even intestinal cancer.
Coeliac disease is now one of the most common genetic maladies in the Western world and it affects an estimated 1 in 133 in the US alone. Being genetic means that it runs in the family – so be extra careful if you know that a close relative has been diagnosed with coeliac disease.
Going on a gluten-free diet is all the rage nowadays! It’s popular in Hollywood, on the web, with vegans and vegetarians and because of this an entire empire has been built on the people’s needs for gluten-free products. Why did this trend start? Mainly because people make analogies and think that if gluten is not good for some people, then it can’t be good for anyone. It does make a bit of sense when you think about it, knowing that this addition to our diet is relatively new and our digestive systems are still learning how to process the protein, but we’re not all sensitive to gluten and that is a fact!
Can Going Gluten-Free Harm Us?
Because we’re not all sensitive to gluten, some people claim that indeed, going gluten-free when there is no issue, could in fact harm us by desensitizing our systems and making us slowly but surely allergic to gluten. People who have been on a gluten-free diet just for the fun of it have experienced trouble getting back to gluten, myself included. I have been gluten-free for three years and when I tried to get back to it, I felt that I was in trouble. My body was fine with gluten prior to me giving it up, but after getting back to it, three years after I hadn’t had any, well – my body was in shock. I was bloated and I felt ill most of the time. I made the decision to slowly introduce it back into my diet and it works.
I am not alone – thousands of people are in the exact same position as I am, so this raises the question: why are we intentionally making ourselves allergic to something? Is gluten really that bad for us?
Have you ever tried a gluten-free diet? Do you think your body would thrive if you were to ban all the grains that contain gluten? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below and we’ll spark up a conversation.